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literature

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Cunningham, Michael (b. 1952)  

The acclaimed novelist Michael Cunningham examines gay culture within the context of the larger society.

Cunningham was born in Ohio in 1952. A graduate of Stanford University (1975) and the University of Iowa Writers Workshop (1980), he also studied under a fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he has continued to teach; he is also a member of the faculty at Columbia University.

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In the 1970s and 1980s Cunningham published several short stories in the Atlantic Monthly, Paris Review, and New Yorker. An early novel, Golden States (1984), although generally well reviewed, is today dismissed by the author. Cunningham's next book, A Home at the End of the World (1990), established his reputation. It received critical praise for its style, complex characterizations, and skillful examination of contemporary mores.

In this novel Cunningham explores themes common to his later works as well: traditional and extended-family situations, the impact of AIDS, and the examination of gay culture within the context of the larger society. A Home at the End of the World was short-listed for several awards, including the Irish Times International Fiction Prize.

Flesh and Blood (1995), a saga exploring the lives and relationships of several generations of a Greek-American family, received the Whiting Writers' Award. An ambitious and wide-ranging book, it earned a great deal of critical recognition and was praised for its reach and the elegant prose that is characteristic of all of Cunningham's writing.

Cunningham's next novel, The Hours (1999), greatly enhanced his reputation. Nominated for the National Book Critics Award, the book eventually won the Pulitzer Prize, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and the American Library Association's book award for gay and lesbian literature.

The Hours is Cunningham's most complex and fully realized novel to date, illustrating a brilliant use of point of view and a sophisticated handling of structure. In alternating chapters, the reader is taken through a single day in the lives of three women from different time periods. By the end of the novel, themes and characters are interwoven with stunning effect. Named after the working title of Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, The Hours is an homage to that work; Woolf herself is a principal character in a moving and beautifully realized depiction of her last days.

In numerous interviews over the past several years, Cunningham has stated that although being gay himself and concerned in all his novels with gay characters and themes, he would not label himself a "gay novelist." His books are in fact notable for the presentation of "gayness" as a given and for embedding gay issues within the context of contemporary society as a whole.

As Michael Coffey has observed, "In The Hours, [Cunningham] writes about straights and gays and lesbians and teenagers and housewives and a great figure of Western literature--and, deftly, brings them all together in a tale about love accommodating difference." With the extraordinary critical and popular success of The Hours--the novel spent several weeks on American and British best-seller lists--Cunningham's writing is indeed enjoying wide readership.

"The success of Stephen Daldry's 2002 film version of The Hours, featuring Julianne Moore, Nichole Kidman, and Meryl Streep, has brought Cunningham's novel even more attention and new readers.

Cunningham is also the author of Land's End: A Walk through Provincetown (2002), an evocative and loving portrait of the resort, which has long been a mecca for gay men and lesbians, as well as for artists and writers of all sexualities. Explaining Provincetown's attraction, he describes the community as "one of the places in the world you can disappear into. It is the Morocco of North America, the New Orleans of the north."

David Garnes

     

 
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Michael Cunningham in 2007. Photograph by David Shankbone. © David Shankbone.
  
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    Bibliography
   

Bahr, David. "The Difference a Day Makes: After Hours with Michael Cunningham." Poets & Writers Magazine 27:4 (July/August 1999): 18-23.

Coffey, Michael. "Michael Cunningham: New Family Outing." Publisher's Weekly (November 2, 1998): 53.

Gambone, Philip. Something Inside: Conversations with Gay Fiction Writers. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1999.

Woodhouse, Reed. "Michael Cunningham." Contemporary Gay American Novelists: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook. Emmanuel S. Nelson, ed. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993. 83-88.

___. Unlimited Embrace: A Canon of Gay Fiction, 1945-1995. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Garnes, David  
    Entry Title: Cunningham, Michael  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated October 14, 2007  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/cunningham_m.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

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